Saturday 31 October 2020

Something's Got To Change

Absolutely nobody wanted CRISSA from the outset, except the 2 people that created it. They pushed and push and pushed, until it was made mandatory. That’s how probation works nowadays, no evidence base, no collaboration, Just Effing Do It because the HMIP might give us a gold star.

Agree CRISSA is for automatons! Probation over assesses and over records but massively under delivers meaningful work with offenders. I genuinely believe that Probation has no identity now and bends to the will of others like a tree in the wind. The offenders know this and don't trust Probation any more than they trust any other professionals. Sigh. It was not always like this. Sigh

A quick google bought up this shite. I feel sorry for the offenders having to go through this scripted conveyor belt every week and for the POs that buy in to this drivel then type it all up.

“During the session, we will also talk about the offence and explore deeper into why it happened and how we can help them to not be in a situation again. The session framework that I, and most other officers use is the CRISSA model. In English this means, Check in, Review, Implement/ intervention, Summarise, Set tasks, appointments.

This basically means, I check in with them, see if any circumstances have changed since the last session, and go through their general engagement with the order. I review the previous session and any learning, and tasks set from the last time. We sit down and implement and come up with interventions that focus on a criminogenic need, linked to the sentence plan, for example thinking skills and attitudes. We then summarise the session we have had, set tasks if necessary that will be reviewed in the next session and finally set an appointment for the next session, whether is either weekly, fortnightly or monthly.”

Absolutely agree. HMIP have indicated for years now that our work with offenders in supervision sessions is piss poor, but they stop short at exploring why. The organisation has focussed so much on case recording and completing OASYS under impossibly exacting QA standards, that it has forgotten who we are working for. Think back to the last time you had training on skills associated with meaningful engagement and delivery of supervision sessions, versus training in risk and OASYS completion.

The organisation has lost its way and reinforces matters by bringing in recording initiatives like CRISSA, officer diary, risk registers, constant pressure to update OASYS, constant pressure to complete this against standards which talk about meticulous completion of evidence boxes, assessor comments....and then the senior leaders scratch their heads and say "we just can't understand why employees say we don't listen, we offer a TEAMS meeting once a month, we don't get it??"

"come up with interventions that focus on a criminogenic need, linked to the sentence plan, for example thinking skills and attitudes." Linked to a sentence plan from an OASys system built on the premise that the client needs to be "fixed", it demeans both the professional and the client. Both of us insulted in a stroke.

I do love how corporate bullshit tells us how we need to more reflect the community we serve. Well if that really were the case, the service would employ 95% men!! Which is clearly ridiculous and not required!! What is required is to start thinking about why we are unsuccessful at working with about 50% of our users, and I'm suggested tailoring services around what men actually need is one of many ways to achieve this...or we simply be more honest as a service that we are here to punish and enforce and that is our end goal.

Probation is unsuccessful because it doesn’t reflect the community we serve. This doesn’t just mean more male POs, but more difference across all probation jobs;

More men
More Black, Asian and ethnic people, especially men..
More working class people who didn’t go to university.
More people with criminal records.
More people that have overcome addictions.
More people that have migrated from other countries.
More people that have lived life.

Friday 30 October 2020

Too Much Clickety Clicking

Yesterday's post and spirited discussion serves to highlight just how much feeling and unease there is around the issue of the extraordinary and growing gender imbalance within probation. We have discussed this many times before, the reasons are varied and complex but include selection, training, salary, professional judgement, discretion and job satisfaction. Surely this exasperated contributor put their finger on much of the problem? 

"I agree with comments about "command and control" - OASYS has GOT to go to be replaced with an assessment system which makes sense, CRISSA has got to go, Risk registers (or at least updating them every five minutes) has got to go - and can someone please make that bloody box in Delius larger so I can actually see what's in it - actually fuck it, Delius has got to go, I spend too much time clickety clicking and not enough time WORKING. We need to chose ONE of these issues and band together and say "enough is enough - we are NOT doing this anymore"....the person is more important than the CRISSA notes I write about them."

And these:-

"Just love that risk management economy created by The Centre so their on-message chums in academia could sell sackloads of shit, politicians could scare the public witless & NOMS/HMPPS could control the probation narrative."

"The current Probation service that sucks up to the police, creates little security units to please Tory ministers and buddies up with prison governors by unnecessarily vetting it’s own staff."

Thursday 29 October 2020

At Odds With The Evidence

Two emails a day apart and for me they rather neatly highlight the fundamental problem. To many of us, possibly an ever-diminishing band of contrarians, 'probation' is quite obviously being strangled by the ever-tightening grip of HMPPS and their typical civil service command and control mind set. 

How long can we wait for the penny to drop? How long before somebody is prepared to put their neck on the line and confirm the bloody obvious? This forced marriage with a uniformed service, embracing as it does an entirely different culture and modus operandi has been a disaster for our professional ethos, distinctive identity and ability to practice effectively. Probation simply cannot be practiced as a civil servant under HMPPS diktat! 

I find it so unfair and dispiriting, especially for prospective new recruits, that the MoJ/HMPPS management and publicity machine continue to disseminate the warm and upbeat image of a career full of promise, but one that is so at odds with the evidence.  

Criss Cross

Hi Jim

Probably not coherent. I am so cross/fed up, but if you want to use this feel free.

NPS acknowledge that low morale in the workforce is an issue. Also that there aren’t enough of us. And that workplace bullying is a problem. Nonetheless, they persist in piling ludicrous tasks on overworked staff, micromanaging us to an inch of our sanity, and threatening us with sanctions if we... go sick, manage a case with SFO, don't meet a deadline, whatever.

Management is a job for managers, weirdly it seems to have become the sole activity of the “Service”, whose only function appears to be the meeting of management targets which should be a diagnostic, not a mission in itself.

One feature of this neurotic over-management is the requirement to record all contacts with clients on the case recording database using the CRISS model: Check in, Review, Intervention, Summary, Set Tasks. This is inevitably monitored by equally freaked-out team managers.

If you’re doing the job right, you are sustaining very marginal people, often remotely, in the middle of a global pandemic. This requires compassion, risk sensitive antennae, therapeutic skills, pragmatism. The job is to sustain people, keep them going, stop them hurting anyone else. I have done work since March of which I am very proud, and which has rehabilitated, and protected the public. Tragically, it felt subversive, and necessitated a) squeezing it in between the day job ticking boxes b) was almost impossible to record under the CRISS template.

Presumably the hope is:-

Check in: Having a bit of trouble with my decision making

Review: He does some dodgy things

Intervention: Stern talk which I will record as “Motivational Work” about not being an idiot. Reminder that Sanctions will follow non-compliance. Powerpoint print off re thinking skills

Summary: That is him sorted then

Set tasks: Record, cut and paste repeatedly


Removed at author's request.

Wednesday 28 October 2020

Thought For The Day

We don't often quote the Hindustan Times on here, but yesterday's piece on targets and measures brought an interesting reflection and a challenge. Since Blogger decided on a pointless 'upgrade' to the dashboard I've heard posting images had become more difficult, so if you can't see a picture of Everest today, the rumours are indeed correct.

The futility of targets

There’s a photograph from last month that I can’t get out of my head — of hundreds of humans jammed in a queue, waiting to summit Mount Everest... you may want to ‘conquer’ Mount Everest. But what happens after you scale it? You feel euphoric. For a few minutes, maybe a few hours. Then that starts to dissipate. Until you find a new goal... Why not be a mountaineer instead? A mountaineer doesn’t feel the need to clamber up a popular mountain to prove a point. Climbing is part of who they are. The goal doesn’t overwhelm. It does not subsume identity.

"Neither HMPPS nor CRCs understand the difference between stacking everyone up in a queue and valuing identity, skills, experience, knowledge, etc. My probation career ended when, after 25+ years of working as a committed professional, I was packaged and sold to a private company for £1.

My employment was ended when the private company cleared the decks to improve their chances of profitability, turning that £1 investment into £millions of taxpayer handouts which were syphoned off to shareholders & senior management."

(it would be good if you could get that picture on the page somehow, Jim. It's an extraordinary sight to behold).

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Targets and Measures

I can't remember how or where, but I was struck by this reminder the other day:-
Goodhart's Law is expressed simply as: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” In other words, when we set one specific goal, people will tend to optimize for that objective regardless of the consequences.
And reader FranK highlighted the following:-

"Also on HMPPS website: The critical Community Performance Quarterly updates, those targets that management make you break your backs to meet, will be hidden from public view until after "reunification" in July 2021.

Yet another disgraceful, cynical sleight of hand to mask, manipulate & otherwise massage the data to suit the narrative of the Bullies & Liars at Her Majesty's Piss Poor Service. Statistics release cancelled."

From HMPPS website:-

"Since the introduction of the Offender Rehabilitation Act (ORA) as part of Transforming Rehabilitation, the National Probation Service (NPS) and Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) have been monitored against performance framework to make sure their delivery of services is timely, consistent and of high quality.

The publication will cover all performance metrics from both frameworks, at a national level and broken down to lower levels of geography where appropriate.

As stated in the previous March 2020 release of this publication, and following the completed consultation period, the release schedule for this publication is moving to an annual cycle, with the next edition reporting full-year outcomes for 2020/21 in July 2021. The contents and structure of the publication will not change and the additional tables on accommodation and employment circumstances will continue to be included. From June 2021, the current performance frameworks for probation will be coming to an end. Our intention from this point onward is to produce a re-designed publication to better fit the new performance monitoring arrangements that will be in place under the Unified Probation Model."


Whilst we ponder exactly what shenanigans are going on at HMPPS HQ, I thought these extracts from a recent report on the Clinks website was instructive:-

Information is part of the cost-benefit cycle 

Sound cost-benefit assessment relies on the availability of robust, accurate, and reliable data and information. In most funding contexts, some form of independent verification of the claims of programme providers is required by funders as a condition of continued funding; this evidence is gathered through a combination of evaluations or inspection audits by external or official bodies. 

In principle, evaluations of programmes should primarily inform internal planning and longer-term strategisation. However, the purpose of commissioned studies can be distorted by commercial and policy priorities, where ‘evaluations’ and audit reports are mainly used for external consumption of funders, sponsors and the general public. Commissioned evaluative studies by consultants or university personnel can be very costly, while smaller charities find that the required investment in data gathering systems and activities may outweigh the potential resources they need for improving or expanding their services. In the sense that information is liable to be commoditised in such a manner, it might be argued that there is an inverse relationship between the value of such studies as a tool for strategic planning and degree to which they are valued for fundraising and publicity. Put another way, evaluations might not always serve the functions of both revealing weaknesses in performance while generating a public picture of success. Voluntary sector providers should be clear about their purpose when undertaking or commissioning a CBA and be aware that a more in-depth investigation may reveal areas for improvement as well as areas of success. (For a broader discussion of the value and pitfalls of evaluation for the voluntary sector, see Hedderman and Hucklesby, 2016).

CBAs are about more than reducing reoffending 

Inspection audits of a kind which weigh performance and outcomes against national targets – such as assessing the success of programmes in reducing reoffending against national or regional reoffending thresholds – present their own advantages and limitations. Whilst the ability to compare outcomes for service users against the national or regional picture adds value to assessing the strengths and weaknesses of programmes (itself a useful form of qualitative cost-benefit analysis), such comparisons should be treated with caution rather than certitude. 

The Ministry of Justice’s Justice Data Lab (JDL) gives voluntary organisations and other bodies working with offenders free access to central reoffending data. Provided you have service users’ consent to use their data and their names, date of birth, gender and date of community sentence or release from prison, and a significant enough number of service users to generate a statistically significant result, the JLD can calculate the reoffending rates of your service users against a matched cohort of offenders. You should be confident of your results though as the JDL stipulates that all findings are published in order to advance our knowledge of what works in reducing reoffending. 

Chris Fox and Kevin Albertson (2012; 125-126)2 usefully summarise the proper uses and misuses of cost-benefit analyses with a view to introducing some proportionality into commissioners’ expectations as to what is reliably measurable and relevant for providers, including small and medium sized VSOs. 

• The expectation that benefits (in terms of desistance or increasing pro-social behaviour) may outweigh costs (in financial terms) may not hold. In other words, there is a weak relationship between criminal justice interventions for reducing offending, and net financial savings to the public. 

• Properly conducted, cost-benefit analysis should consider all outcomes (social, financial, personal) and not just weigh reduced reoffending against savings. 

• Properly done, valuations of ‘soft’ outcomes (wellbeing, reduction in fear or insecurity) are as important to gaining an accurate analysis as comparison with ‘hard’ outcomes (reduced offending behaviour).

• The direct translation of outcome evaluative findings into monetary values is fraught with preferential bias, and any calculation of ‘savings’ where crime does not occur needs to be carefully interpreted. 

• Traditional cost-benefit analysis is poor at identifying externalities, so that attribution of factors contributing to success or failure are often omitted, thus giving an inaccurate picture of what contributed to success or failure in a project.

Be careful what you measure – and what you are required to measure 

The pressure to prove the efficacy of your programme (and understate problems) can be compounded when it is directly and narrowly linked to outcomes-based commissioning (in the form of payment by results or principal only payment systems). A major concern for the voluntary sector is the burden of evidence which is placed upon providers to establish both the cost-efficiency and social benefit of their work utilising instruments and measures which capture narrow financial and reducing reoffending parameters. In the current climate of austerity and the need for providers to ‘do more with less’, it can be a matter of politics, rather than social science, as to which ‘costs’ and which ‘benefits’ are actually utilised and calculated. The traditional view of commissioners and funders is that the costs of programmes or interventions should be favourable in relation to expenditure (i.e. should save money) when assessing the validity of programmes. This kind of calculation, for example, might offset the cost of intervention or treatment against what might notionally be saved had the service user otherwise been using health, policing, custodial or other public resources, reduced criminal activity, or any reduction in victim costs, for example. Net benefits might also be calculated for participants (engagement in education, treatment programmes), their families and communities, and the general public. 


At present, payment-by-results or lead provider (sometimes called principal contract) systems do not adequately capture the actual value of the work done because they reward the agent (provider) for the primary product, while little commercial reward is allocated for ‘by-products’ such as social justice, humanitarian intervention, personal transformation, or community benefit. In short, a great deal of voluntary sector work is disregarded as having economic viability. There is no inherent reason (other than narrow misconceptions of what is financially worthwhile) why these outputs are not regarded as appropriate for society to support via governmental or social funding. 

Should there be markets in the criminal justice system? 

In criminal justice, we cannot ignore the important moral imperative which conventional political economy overlooks, but which is intrinsic to humanitarian intervention. There remains the strong public belief that working with criminally sanctioned persons is not like any other public services because of the solemn penal function of the criminal justice system (powers which one might argue should be limited by law to democratic and legally constituted bodies). The obligatory duty to punish and sanction, one argument goes, means that criminal justice is non-marketable (if one accepts that involvement in criminal justice work equates with participating in punishment). However, this does not always translate into a consensus whether this makes the penal/criminal justice sphere merely distinctive, or makes this an exception from the normal conditions of humanitarian work. 

Classic commercial and policy cost-benefit models do not adequately reflect the contribution of the voluntary/ third sector. Charities must achieve commercial viability, but their activities cannot be determined by profit generation if the sector is also to claim public legitimacy and create meaningful distinctions between themselves and commercial businesses. In this sense, cost-benefit analysis means that charities need to employ tools which take into consideration of the different goals of charitable organisations – some of which conflict with A bolder cost-benefit approach to capture the contribution of the voluntary sector in criminal justice each other. The interaction between sectors is complex, and there is still plenty of scope for policymakers and commissioning bodies to work with different sectors to devise a framework for assistance provided by different actors. It ought to be possible to devise actuarial instruments for assessing the holistic costs and benefits of working with those affected by criminal harms. Such tools would assist strategic decision making, not just in terms of financial planning, but in factoring in the other significant elements of reputation (lending or transacting your good name), recognisability with crucial stakeholders, personnel and organisational ‘costs’, reach and legitimacy with beneficiary groups and communities. There are no intrinsic reasons why the value of externalities and outputs cannot be recognised and rewarded by funders and stakeholders alike.

Saturday 24 October 2020

Cathartic Exercise

"I'm moved to extend a heartfelt thanks to my NPS employers for once again furnishing me with the wonderful opportunity of filling in the excellent people survey. This annual cathartic exercise fills me with joy every year. The chance to strongly disagree with all their bullshit statements and tell them that I am desperate to leave because I work in a culture of bullying, harassment and discrimination is one not to be missed. I also always remember to 'prefer not to say' to all the information that would allow them to identify me lest they choose to do so. It is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Sadly, my ten minutes of glee is exactly that. A fleeting moment in an otherwise shitstorm of drudgery because I know in my heart of hearts that nothing will ever come of it. Thanks anyway though."


From the Civil Service people survey 2019 HMPPS Overall

E03. Have you been bullied or harassed at work, in the past 12 months?

Yes 14%
No 78%
Prefer not to say 8%

For respondents who selected 'Yes' to E03. E03A. How would you describe the nature of the bullying and/or harassment you experienced? (multiple selection) 

Comments about my personal appearance 425 
Sexual harassment (e.g. sexual comments or jokes, unwelcome sexual advances, touching or assault) 247 
Spreading gossip or making false accusations about me 1,021 
Intimidation or verbal aggression (e.g. shouting, swearing, making threats) 903 
Physical assault (e.g. object thrown at me, pushed, hit) 89 
Humiliated in front of team or others 1,220 
Negative Micromanagement (e.g. excessive control; made to feel incompetent) 1,161 Removal of job responsibilities, unconstructive criticism, or impossible/changing expectations 608 
Treated less favourably to others 1,174 
Ignored, excluded, marginalised 964 
Undermining or taking credit for my work 717 
Denied time off for personal ill health 157 
Denied time off for family or caring responsibilities 182 
Disclosure of personal / sensitive information to colleagues without my consent 340 Something else not listed here 327 
Prefer not to say 137


Given the obvious difference in organisational culture between the Prison and Probation Service, isn't it time to separate the survey data? It just might help make the case for a divorce.  

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Prison Report

Peter Clarke, the out-going HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, published his final Annual Report yesterday and the following are highlights from the introduction:-


Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on prisons, we must not forget what we had already seen during inspections earlier in the year. The challenges faced by many prisons, and the systemic weaknesses that we identified in some key areas, will not have gone away because of the health emergency. When the immediate crisis is over, there will still be an urgent need to address the serious issues that adversely affect the safety and decency of our prisons, the opportunity they offer for rehabilitation and their contribution to reducing reoffending. 

Grounds for cautious optimism? 

HM Inspectorate of Prisons often refers to the impact of leadership and good management on the outcomes experienced by prisoners. I have frequently pointed out the benefits of local initiatives and clear, focused leadership. In 2017, HMP Liverpool was the subject of one of the most damning inspection reports in recent years, and at the time I commented publicly on how there had been a failure of leadership at local, regional and national levels. A new governor was appointed and the process of recovery began. When I returned to Liverpool in September 2019, the prison was almost unrecognisable. The filth and vermin had gone, and prisoners were no longer being held in degrading, squalid conditions. Staff and prisoners alike had contributed to the change. Some cynics have tried to persuade me that any jail could have achieved this with the resources that had been made available to HMP Liverpool. This is quite wrong and diminishes what has been achieved. The transformation came about because of leadership, teamwork and collaborative working between managers and staff. The tears and applause that greeted our positive feedback at the end of the 2019 inspection was, quite simply, an expression of pride in what had been achieved. This year it was also reassuring, during our Independent Reviews of Progress (IRPs), to see the positive impact that effective leadership had at other prisons that had suffered from poor performance, such as at Lewes and Channings Wood. However, we have also seen how poor or inconsistent leadership can and does lead to appalling failure, as was the case this year at HMYOI Feltham A. 

In the past I have pointed out the correlation between the achievement of our recommendations and the performance of a prison. While we do not give prizes for following recommendations, as a general proposition it is true to say that better outcomes tend to occur where establishments have taken our recommendations seriously and done their best to implement them. For the past three years, a greater number of our recommendations have not been achieved than achieved. Therefore, it is good to see that this year, for the first time since 2015–16, a slightly higher proportion of our recommendations have been achieved than not. I hope this sets a pattern for the future as it is clear the correlation applies to all types of prison. For instance, Cardiff is a local prison that has faced many challenges, so it was particularly pleasing to see strong improvement there in 2019. The fact that Cardiff had fully achieved more than half of the recommendations made at the previous inspection was surely no coincidence. Similarly, Hatfield, an open prison where 24 out of 29 recommendations had been fully achieved, scored the highest grades in all our tests. In contrast, at Hewell we found that only 14 out of 57 recommendations had been achieved, that performance had declined in the closed part of the prison and that the open prison had ceased to deliver its most basic functions. Overall, I have seen enough during the year to make me cautiously optimistic for the future, but only if the early signs of focus and momentum that we saw in some prisons can be replicated elsewhere, and survive the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many years safety and decency in prisons has been undermined by the prevalence of illicit drugs and the impact they have in generating debts, bullying and violence. The prison service was far too slow to respond to the impact of so-called new psychoactive substances, often referred to as Spice, when they began to ravage many jails over the course of the last decade. Far too slowly, technology that has been available for many years in other sectors has begun to be introduced into some prisons. For instance, scanners that can detect internally concealed drugs are now being introduced. My experience in those prisons where I have seen them operating is that they are warmly welcomed by staff, who feel safer. I have been given many examples of the deterrent and disruptive effect they have on the drugs trade in prisons. It is incumbent on HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to make sure that this technology, and others, are now used to their full potential.

Serious concerns remain 

As a result of the 2017 inspection of HMP Liverpool, and a subsequent recommendation from the parliamentary Justice Select Committee, HMI Prisons was funded to carry out a new form of scrutiny called Independent Reviews of Progress (IRPs). These are not inspections, and are fundamentally different from our usual work in that we do not look so much at outcomes but rather what efforts management has put into responding to our recommendations from previous inspections. The IRPs have been carried out at establishments where there has either been an Urgent Notification to the Secretary of State or because there were other important issues that we felt needed to be reviewed earlier than would be the case during the normal inspection programme.

It was therefore disappointing to find that progress had too often been disappointingly slow. In several cases, it had been many months before there had been any meaningful progress. I have seen so-called action plans where there had been little action, and responses to Urgent Notifications where the element of urgency was completely lacking. For instance, at HMP Pentonville in January 2020 we found that little had been done to respond to a very poor inspection report in 2019 until a few days before the IRP itself. However, as if to prove that effective leadership produces results, very real progress had been made at HMP Birmingham after it had been subject to an Urgent Notification following some of the worst inspection findings we had ever seen in 2018. Similarly, at Lewes we found a prison with a renewed sense of purpose and direction, that had made good or reasonably good progress in three-quarters of the recommendations we reviewed, and had shaken off the shackles of years of ineffective ‘special measures’. Overall, IRPs carried out during the year found varying progress (see Appendix seven). IRPs can be an effective driver of improvement, especially when prison leaders respond to serious concerns as soon as possible after an inspection or Urgent Notification, and do not wait for months before acting. That we found good or satisfactory progress in half of the recommendations we reviewed shows what is possible. It is vital that HMPPS both demands and enables a rapid response to concerning inspection findings. 

As well as the concern about the pace of progress following poor inspection reports, it was particularly worrying that IRPs found widespread poor performance in the area of purposeful activity. Purposeful activity sits at the heart of whether a prison can offer a safe, decent and rehabilitative environment. We found that no meaningful progress or insufficient progress had been made against 12 of the 15 recommendations we reviewed in this area. Our partners from Ofsted reviewed progress on a thematic basis, and found no significant progress against any theme they reviewed.

Time spent in purposeful activity is key to prisoners’ sense of well-being, to their mental and physical health, to their ability to acquire skills and to prepare for release. Our findings make for depressing reading. A mere 24% of our previous main recommendations had been achieved. Only five prisons had improved in this area – fewer than in any other test. There were far too often shortfalls in the number of jobs or education places available for prisoners, even in training prisons. Allocation to activities was too often haphazard, and the activities themselves mundane, offering little incentive for prisoners to attend.

Systemic failure in offender management 

The ability of prisoners to rehabilitate and progress towards a safe and purposeful release back into the community is, in most cases, critically dependant on a process known as the Offender Assessment System (OASys). For several years we have found that this system is failing. We have found prisons where many hundreds of prisoners either have no documentation at all, or where it is hopelessly out of date. Over the years I have been repeatedly assured that all will be well when new staff become available, or when new ways of working are introduced. However, nobody at any level of HMPPS can tell me how many eligible prisoners do not have a current OASys. At local level it is not unusual for us to find that the prison themselves have little or no idea what the shortfall is. The system is broken, and there are indications that, during the COVID-19 lockdown, it has ceased to function at all in some places. An important part of the recovery plan after the pandemic recedes must be to take a strategic decision to either repair the broken system, or replace it with something new that serves the needs of prisoners and public alike. The following is an excerpt from my introduction to the HMP Wealstun inspection report: 

OASys is supposed to provide the basis for managing risk, informing sentence planning, making re-categorisation decisions and planning for release. However, we found that 75% of prisoners who were arriving at Wealstun were doing so without an assessment, and more than a quarter had one that had not been updated for more than a year. There had been some creditable work carried out locally to try to devise sentence plans, but two-thirds of these were missing in the cases we looked at, and where they did exist they were ineffective. The widespread shortcomings of OASys comprise in my view a strategic failure that undermines so much good work that we see being carried out at a local level, and demands a more coordinated and serious response from HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) than has been the case to date. 

Peter Clarke
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Tuesday 20 October 2020

Off Piste With Worry

Maybe it's just another Covid effect, but try as I might to stick to the subject of probation and if it can survive another omnishambles under bureaucratic and terrible HMPPS management, there's so much politically going on, of seismic proportions, I'm finding it really difficult to remain focussed. 

The blatant lying, cronyism, corruption and incompetence by our government under Johnson is now so routine it's hard to take it all in and for a normally very miId-mannered individual, somewhat alarmingly I can feel revolutionary thoughts stirring. And then there's America, Trump and guns. I can't believe I'm saying this, but for weeks now I keep thinking 'civil war'. This is surely absurd and impossible - isn't it? At the weekend The New York Times lost patience, threw caution to the wind and broke with tradition with this blistering analysis:-

End Our National Crisis

Donald Trump’s re-election campaign poses the greatest threat to American democracy since World War II.

Mr. Trump’s ruinous tenure already has gravely damaged the United States at home and around the world. He has abused the power of his office and denied the legitimacy of his political opponents, shattering the norms that have bound the nation together for generations. He has subsumed the public interest to the profitability of his business and political interests. He has shown a breathtaking disregard for the lives and liberties of Americans. He is a man unworthy of the office he holds.

The editorial board does not lightly indict a duly elected president. During Mr. Trump’s term, we have called out his racism and his xenophobia. We have critiqued his vandalism of the postwar consensus, a system of alliances and relationships around the globe that cost a great many lives to establish and maintain. We have, again and again, deplored his divisive rhetoric and his malicious attacks on fellow Americans. Yet when the Senate refused to convict the president for obvious abuses of power and obstruction, we counseled his political opponents to focus their outrage on defeating him at the ballot box.

Nov. 3 can be a turning point. This is an election about the country’s future, and what path its citizens wish to choose. 
The resilience of American democracy has been sorely tested by Mr. Trump’s first term. Four more years would be worse.

But even as Americans wait to vote in lines that stretch for blocks through their towns and cities, Mr. Trump is engaged in a full-throated assault on the integrity of that essential democratic process. Breaking with all of his modern predecessors, he has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, suggesting that his victory is the only legitimate outcome, and that if he does not win, he is ready to contest the judgment of the American people in the courts or even on the streets.

The enormity and variety of Mr.Trump’s misdeeds can feel overwhelming. Repetition has dulled the sense of outrage, and the accumulation of new outrages leaves little time to dwell on the particulars. This is the moment when Americans must recover that sense of outrage.

It is the purpose of this special section of the Sunday Review to remind readers why Mr. Trump is unfit to lead the nation. It includes a series of essays focused on the Trump administration’s rampant corruption, celebrations of violence, gross negligence with the public’s health and incompetent statecraft. A selection of iconic images highlights the president’s record on issues like climate, immigration, women’s rights and race. And alongside our judgment of Mr. Trump, we are publishing, in their own words, the damning judgments of men and women who had served in his administration.

The urgency of these essays speaks for itself. The repudiation of Mr. Trump is the first step in repairing the damage he has done. But even as we write these words, Mr. Trump is salting the field — and even if he loses, reconstruction will require many years and tears.

Mr. Trump stands without any real rivals as the worst American president in modern history. In 2016, his bitter account of the nation’s ailments struck a chord with many voters. But the lesson of the last four years is that he cannot solve the nation’s pressing problems because he is the nation’s most pressing problem.

He is a racist demagogue presiding over an increasingly diverse country; an isolationist in an interconnected world; a showman forever boasting about things he has never done, and promising to do things he never will.

He has shown no aptitude for building, but he has managed to do a great deal of damage. He is just the man for knocking things down.

As the world runs out of time to confront climate change, Mr. Trump has denied the need for action, abandoned international cooperation and attacked efforts to limit emissions.

He has mounted a cruel crackdown on both legal and illegal immigration without proposing a sensible policy for determining who should be allowed to come to the United States.

Obsessed with reversing the achievements of his immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, he has sought to persuade both Congress and the courts to get rid of the Affordable Care Act without proposing any substitute policy to provide Americans with access to affordable health care. During the first three years of his administration, the number of Americans without health insurance increased by 2.3 million — a number that has surely grown again as millions of Americans have lost their jobs this year.

He campaigned as a champion of ordinary workers, but he has governed on behalf of the wealthy. He promised an increase in the federal minimum wage and fresh investment in infrastructure; he delivered a round of tax cuts that mostly benefited rich people. He has indiscriminately erased regulations, and answered the prayers of corporations by suspending enforcement of rules he could not easily erase. Under his leadership, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has stopped trying to protect consumers and the Environmental Protection Agency has stopped trying to protect the environment.

He has strained longstanding alliances while embracing dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, whom Mr. Trump treats with a degree of warmth and deference that defies explanation. He walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a strategic agreement among China’s neighbors intended to pressure China to conform to international standards. In its place, Mr. Trump has conducted a tit-for-tat trade war, imposing billions of dollars in tariffs — taxes that are actually paid by Americans — without extracting significant concessions from China.

Mr. Trump’s inadequacies as a leader have been on particularly painful display during the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of working to save lives, Mr. Trump has treated the pandemic as a public relations problem. He lied about the danger, challenged the expertise of public health officials and resisted the implementation of necessary precautions; he is still trying to force the resumption of economic activity without bringing the virus under control.

As the economy pancaked, he signed an initial round of aid for Americans who lost their jobs. Then the stock market rebounded and, even though millions remained out of work, Mr. Trump lost interest in their plight.

In September, he declared that the virus “affects virtually nobody” the day before the death toll from the disease in the United States topped 200,000.

Nine days later, Mr. Trump fell ill.

The foundations of American civil society were crumbling before Mr. Trump rode down the escalator of Trump Tower in June 2015 to announce his presidential campaign. But he has intensified the worst tendencies in American politics: Under his leadership, the nation has grown more polarized, more paranoid and meaner.

He has pitted Americans against each other, mastering new broadcast media like Twitter and Facebook to rally his supporters around a virtual bonfire of grievances and to flood the public square with lies, disinformation and propaganda. He is relentless in his denigration of opponents and reluctant to condemn violence by those he regards as allies. At the first presidential debate in September, Mr. Trump was asked to condemn white supremacists. He responded by instructing one violent gang, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by.”

He has undermined faith in government as a vehicle for mediating differences and arriving at compromises. He demands absolute loyalty from government officials, without regard to the public interest. He is openly contemptuous of expertise.

And he has mounted an assault on the rule of law, wielding his authority as an instrument to secure his own power and to punish political opponents. In June, his administration tear-gassed and cleared peaceful protesters from a street in front of the White House so Mr. Trump could pose with a book he does not read in front of a church he does not attend.

The full scope of his misconduct may take decades to come to light. But what is already known is sufficiently shocking:

He has resisted lawful oversight by the other branches of the federal government. The administration routinely defies court orders, and Mr. Trump has repeatedly directed administration officials not to testify before Congress or to provide documents, notably including Mr. Trump’s tax returns.

With the help of Attorney General William Barr, he has shielded loyal aides from justice. In May, the Justice Department said it would drop the prosecution of Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn even though Mr. Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. In July, Mr. Trump commuted the sentence of another former aide, Roger Stone, who was convicted of obstructing a federal investigation of Mr. Trump’s 2016 election campaign. Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, rightly condemned the commutation as an act of “unprecedented, historic corruption.”

Last year, Mr. Trump pressured the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of his main political rival, Joe Biden, and then directed administration officials to obstruct a congressional inquiry of his actions. In December 2019, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Mr. Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors. But Senate Republicans, excepting Mr. Romney, voted to acquit the president, ignoring Mr. Trump’s corruption to press ahead with the project of filling the benches of the federal judiciary with young, conservative lawyers as a firewall against majority rule.

Now, with other Republican leaders, Mr. Trump is mounting an aggressive campaign to reduce the number of Americans who vote and the number of ballots that are counted.

The president, who has long spread baseless charges of widespread voter fraud, has intensified his rhetorical attacks in recent months, especially on ballots submitted by mail. “The Nov 3rd Election result may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED,” he tweeted. The president himself has voted by mail, and there is no evidence to support his claims. But the disinformation campaign serves as a rationale for purging voter rolls, closing polling places, tossing absentee ballots and otherwise impeding Americans from exercising the right to vote.

It is an intolerable assault on the very foundations of the American experiment in government by the people.

Other modern presidents have behaved illegally or made catastrophic decisions. Richard Nixon used the power of the state against his political opponents. Ronald Reagan ignored the spread of AIDS. Bill Clinton was impeached for lying and obstruction of justice. George W. Bush took the nation to war under false pretenses.

Mr. Trump has outstripped decades of presidential wrongdoing in a single term.

Frederick Douglass lamented during another of the nation’s dark hours, the presidency of Andrew Johnson, “We ought to have our government so shaped that even when in the hands of a bad man, we shall be safe.” But that is not the nature of our democracy. The implicit optimism of American democracy is that the health of the Republic rests on the judgment of the electorate and the integrity of those voters choose.

Mr. Trump is a man of no integrity. He has repeatedly violated his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Now, in this moment of peril, it falls to the American people — even those who would prefer a Republican president — to preserve, protect and defend the United States by voting.

Monday 19 October 2020

Probation Worries For Voluntary Sector

The official government-funded cheerleader for the criminal justice voluntary sector is Clinks and they also gave evidence to the Justice Select Committee last week. Their somewhat scarily-named 'Director of Influence' writes on the Clinks website:-

Probation reform - the view from the voluntary sector   

Today I will be giving evidence to the Justice Select Committee’s inquiry into the future of the probation service. Clinks has already submitted written evidence to the committee which you can read here. This is based on feedback from a wide range of organisations across the voluntary sector and raises many of the issues highlighted in my last blog including the voluntary sector’s concerns on the complexity of the commissioning, the need for costly IT infrastructure and for credit reports not suited to illustrating the financial health of voluntary sector organisations. In my last blog I also highlighted ongoing questions around the contract values and the predicted number of services users these are based upon.

As transition towards the new model progresses and now that we are half way through the competition process for the commissioning of services to be up and running alongside the National Probation Service (NPS) from day one of the new model (Education Training and Employment (ETE), Accommodation, Personal Wellbeing and Women’s Centred Services), I will be reflecting to the Justice Committee Clinks’ views on whether the model offers sufficient opportunity for voluntary sector organisations.

Is there sufficient resource and opportunity for the voluntary sector?

Overall HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) is investing a significant amount of money, probably more than ever before, in the kinds of services that our sector has the expertise and experience in providing. By year three and four of the new model onwards it is forecast that £120m will be spent annually on resettlement and rehabilitation services.

Although the total overall investment that will be made in future years is sizeable, not all services that can be commissioned through the Dynamic Framework in the future are being commissioned to be in operation from day one of the new model. This means that in the early months the amount spent on commissioned services will be considerably less and there are only opportunities for some parts of the voluntary sector.

That said the investment in year one is still greater than Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) data indicates is currently spent annually on resettlement and rehabilitation services. However, the contract values also need to cover more than just service delivery with substantial requirements around having offices in certain locations where services can be based, IT infrastructure and also the need to be able to cover future pension liabilities for staff transferring from CRCs.

Organisations are feeding back to us that for the competitions that have gone live so far, these requirements mean they are having to shave service delivery to the bone, have limited ability to involve the range of partners they would like and are sometimes struggling to make contracts break even.

We have also heard that as a result of this, some larger providers including private primes, are looking to the multi service contracts of personal wellbeing and women’s services as more likely to represent opportunities for economies of scale. This could have a negative impact on the ability of small specialist organisations to compete for these contracts.

Cancellation of Probation Delivery Partner contracts

The cancellation of the Probation Delivery Partner Contracts for the delivery of unpaid work and accredited programmes raised some concerns in the sector that less investment would flow to charities. In reality, the cancellation of these contracts makes little difference to the majority of the small and specialist organisations in the voluntary sector who would have been unable to bid for contracts of that size. Some have questioned how the funds for those contracts will now be spent - but HMPPS is clear that these will now be utilised in service delivery by the NPS and that there was little additional resource for contract management.

One potential implication of this, is that the larger organisations who had seen an opportunity in these contracts are now more likely to be competing with small and specialist organisations for the opportunities presented by the Dynamic Framework.

Is the sector able to engage with the commissioning process?

The issues regarding the complexity of the commissioning process raised in my previous blog remain, and present a significant challenge to the sector. At the end of August over 370 organisations had registered interest in the Dynamic Framework. Over 150 organisations had completed Selection Questionnaires (the supplier qualification form) and at least 60% of those were voluntary organisations. Over 70 of those 150 had already qualified onto the Dynamic Framework. These numbers represent a small proportion of the 1700 organisations estimated to be in the sector, two thirds of which work with people under probation supervision.

As with everything, the complexity of the commissioning has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has meant that both the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the voluntary sector are engaging in a complex commissioning process with reduced resources and in a reduced period of time.

At the first meeting of the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3) Probation Special Interest Group, members recommended that for the sector to engage in commissioning at this time all information should be clearly available at the beginning of any call off. However, this has not been the case and voluntary sector organisations are having to individually ask huge numbers of clarification questions. At Clinks we find ourselves not just influencing on overarching policy issues but having to understand and question significant details of the contracts.

Do the proposed services meet need?

Covid-19 has also reduced HMPPS and MoJ resources in such a way that they had to take the decision to commission less services for day one, leaving out Alcohol and Dependency and Finance, Benefit and Debt. For the remaining day one services the competition was restructured to commission Accommodation and ETE across regional probation areas rather than Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) areas. This has further reduced the day one opportunities for the sector overall and as the Accommodation and ETE contracts are larger, there is less scope for the involvement of smaller organisations with more local footprints or delivering specialist services to certain cohorts. These organisations can now only get involved in the delivery of these contracts through partnerships and sub-contracting.

As well as commissioning a more limited set of services for day one, the service specifications in each of the categories are different to that which are currently commissioned by CRCs. There are substantial changes to the Through the Gate model which means that the sector will likely be delivering a more limited amount of pre-release support. This has raised concerns that the learning and benefits of the current Enhanced Through the Gate model which allow for collaboration and closer working between the voluntary sector, CRCs and prisons will be lost.

There is also an assumption inherent in the commissioning model that services will take a while to ramp up and as such the number of service users would be lower in the first couple of years than in later years. Given the needs the voluntary sector knows to exist amongst people under probation supervision, this does not make sense. In part as a result of Clinks and RR3 influencing, these issues have been addressed in the accommodation contract.

We are also engaged in ongoing discussions to understand the contract values for women’s services. As multi service contracts there is added complexity in ensuring it is costed appropriately given that an individual woman may have multiple co-occuring needs that the service will be required to address.

Raising our concerns with HMPPS

We have raised these issues with Amy Rees, Director General of Probation at HMPPS and the probation reform team have engaged positively with us in trying to mitigate these issues. We are currently exploring with them options for providing support to organisations around the IT requirements of the contracts and we hope that we might see the remaining call offs address some of our other concerns.

We hope that this will mean that the forthcoming competition for personal wellbeing and women’s services will avoid some of the challenges around contract value that we have seen with accommodation and ETE, however we are concerned that the questions around estates, and Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) liabilities will remain. In addition, the challenges around the complexity and structure of the commissioning model are to a large extent challenges with the cross-government procurement model than with policy choices made by the probation reform team.


We continue to be concerned that despite the increased investment in rehabilitation and resettlement services presented by the new model, the contracts for day one services do not provide significant enough opportunity for the voluntary sector. Where the voluntary sector is successful in the procurements, they may find themselves subsiding contracts in order to deliver quality of service, just as our research found is the case with current Transforming Rehabilitation contracts. We may also have to wait some time before Regional Probation Directors feel the NPS is sufficiently established to turn their attention to commissioning services for day two and beyond. All this threatens the sustainability of the criminal justice voluntary sector and is brought into sharper focus when we consider the impact of Covid-19.

Clinks wholeheartedly believes, that the probation service needs the expertise and experience of the voluntary sector to achieve improved outcomes for the people under its supervision and the communities they live in. For this reason I’ll be raising these issues in my evidence to the Justice Committee this afternoon and we will continue to highlight our concerns with the probation reform team as well as HMPPS, MoJ and the government more widely so that the voluntary sector is able to continue to work alongside probation and across the wider criminal justice system.

Jessica Mullen
Director of Influence and Communications 

Saturday 17 October 2020

Omnishambles Mark 2 - The Evidence

Here we have the transcript of the evidence from Napo and Unison to the Justice Select Committee earlier in the week. I find it utterly compelling:-

Q95 Chair: We now move to our third panel of witnesses—last but not least. Thank you for your patience. I would be very grateful if our three witnesses would introduce themselves. 

Ian Lawrence: I am Ian Lawrence, general secretary of Napo. Thank you for this opportunity, and good afternoon to everybody. 

Katie Lomas: I am Katie Lomas. I am the national chair at Napo, and I am a probation officer. 

Ben Priestley: I am Ben Priestley, national officer with Unison. 

Q96 Chair: Thank you all very much for coming to help us with your evidence, and thanks for the written evidence that your organisations have put in. I go back to what I asked the first panel. This is the second time we have had a major reform of the system in five years. This Committee concluded, as I think you agreed, that the first one did not work out too well. Do you think this one will be better? 

Ian Lawrence: We obviously welcome the prospect of a reunified service, and so do the members we represent, but we cannot gloss over the impact that two major reforms have had on all staff across the NPS and CRCs in terms of stress, high workloads and, as we have said to you before, the fragmentation of services that occurred from the start of the TR programme. 

On support for staff generally, despite the positive outcomes of the staff transfer and protection agreement that will underpin the reunified model, and the excellent engagement we have had with senior management, there is still uncertainty for many staff and a lot of work to do as well. We have not had time to celebrate the reunification; we have been too busy working on the future programme. 

To alleviate that, we think it will be useful to see more consistent communications from the CRCs—we know they are trying their best and we understand that—and staff being provided with clear answers from their senior leaders going forward about what the transition means for them, in the lead-in to the unified model and the publication of the revised operational blueprint, which we understand is due next spring. Ben Priestley wants to add to my answer, if possible. 

Ben Priestley: It is very clear that the vast majority of our members support the unified model. It is clearly a step in the right direction; 86% of the members we surveyed recently in support of our submission to the Committee’s inquiry said they support the unified model. 

To pick up on one of Ian’s points, there is a worryingly large minority of members in both the CRCs and the NPS who simply feel that they do not have enough information about the new model to say whether they think it will work. The Committee asked whether the unified model would improve the confidence of sentencers in community sentences. A large proportion of our members—41%—said they did not know whether that was the case, and 38% said they did not know whether the unified model would improve and strengthen collaboration and integration between prisons and probation. Fairly fundamental claims are being made for the unified model, which we support, as our sister union does, but on which staff do not feel they have the information. It goes back to Ian’s point that we need much better communication between HMPPS and the workforce in both the NPS and the CRCs in order that the staff can really get engaged with the project and throw their weight and support behind it. 

Q97 Richard Burgon: We know that the transforming probation privatisation was driven by ideology, not evidence, and that it was opposed by Napo and Unison. I have two questions. First, how confident is the panel that this new programme of reforms is going to repair the damage done to the probation service in the long term? Secondly, what broader lessons does the panel think the Government should learn from the failure of probation privatisation? 

Katie Lomas: One of the key things when thinking about whether it will work is, are we setting it up to work? The previous model, Transforming Rehabilitation, did not work, would not work and could never work. We think that a unified model can work, given the right amount of resource. When we talk about resource we do not mean just putting money into budgets, but making sure that we have the right number of staff, and that right across the system it is properly resourced, not just probation employers but all the other parts of the system that feed into probation and positive outcomes for probation clients. It is not just about saying, “Okay, we’ve tried it one way and it didn’t work. Let’s try it another way.” It is about saying, “This is the model we are committed to and we’re going to resource it properly.” 

I want to say a couple of things about the unified model. The model that is currently being pursued is unified in many parts, but not all. We still retain the dynamic framework for the provision of some services. While we are not opposed to having local providers of specialist services involved in the system, doing their best with their skills and experience, it is not clear that the model actually delivers that. I listened to the evidence of colleagues earlier who expressed exactly the same concerns. The way the contracts for the dynamic framework are being set up removes them from the local focus and means that it is far more likely that larger organisations that can provide a national spread will be given those contracts, rather than genuine smaller local organisations. 

There are lessons to be learned from what happened in Transforming Rehabilitation. The key lesson that we do not believe has yet been woven into the current design is local focus and local responsivity. We need to be able to work in a way that suits the needs of clients and communities in the area where we operate. It is no good doing the same thing in London as you do in rural areas of Lincolnshire. The two approaches need to be completely different, and they will involve different partners and different ways of working. The big lesson not yet learned is localism. 

Ben Priestley: To return to Katie’s point, which David also made in respect of the APCC submission, Unison supports the localisation of probation services, and the role of police and crime commissioners is absolutely integral to that. We certainly favour the devolution of political control to PCCs. I appreciate that is not within the bounds of this particular inquiry, but I want to put it on the record because there is a great deal of support for it in the sector. 

How confident are we that the reforms will work? It comes down to the points Katie mentioned around resourcing. The unions have written both to the Minister and to senior leaders in HMPPS to get a guarantee, as far as we can, that the CSR submission that the MOJ is making and the probation programme budget for the unified model are adequately resourced. We know that probation lost money during the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, and it is absolutely critical that the service gets the funding from the Treasury in the forthcoming CSR and in the probation programme budget for it to work. It is about staffing, pay and the quality of the estate that probation staff have to work in. 

If we go back to the HMIP report delivered in January this year on NPS central functions, with which I know colleagues on the Committee will be familiar, there was a long list of deficiencies identified by the inspectorate about poor-quality offices, staff not being paid correctly, difficulties in training, access to IT and a failing facilities management contract. All those issues need to be addressed. 

On the issue of future procurement, what we know about procurement for the dynamic framework is that it is complex. There are four key strands, with which I think the Committee is familiar. The contracts will themselves be divided up in relation to a locality. For our members who are transferring potentially to a dynamic framework, it is very important to keep in mind that not all CRC staff will transfer to the National Probation Service. Admittedly, a small proportion of our members, but a proportion none the less, will go to the dynamic framework. At this point in time, because of the staggered nature of the procurement process and the award of contracts, those staff do not yet know where they will be working. That is a major cause of concern for us. 

There must be a question mark over the track record of the Ministry of Justice commercial department in specifying and managing contracts. Clearly, that has not been a success story over the last five years, and there must be some real question marks over that. I emphasise that it is about funding. If the NPS and the dynamic framework do not get the funding they need, I do not think any of us can be confident of the success of the unified model. 

Q98 Miss Dines: I am the MP for Derbyshire Dales. I am fairly new on the Committee, since the December election. Probation officers are clearly a huge national asset, and I have every confidence that you will make this transfer work. What challenges do you see and how can they be overcome to make sure that we have an effective new regime in place? 

Katie Lomas: Welcome to the Committee, and thank you for your question. We have to look at a couple of things. Obviously, the timescale and the timing of the reforms are key. On the timescale, we are making big changes to the probation system, again, in a relatively short space of time. On the timing, it comes in the midst of the response to a global pandemic, with our exceptional delivery models in place to make sure that the service can continue to run while keeping everyone as safe as possible. There is a chance that we can make it work, but there are various things we need to be mindful of and on which we need progress in order that the transfer happens. 

Staff who transfer next year from CRCs to the National Probation Service will face some challenges, such as vetting processes. We have serious concerns already about some of the vetting processes our members have to undertake. It is not employment vetting. There is a new requirement for staff in the National Probation Service to undergo police vetting in order to use a police computer system to record and share information. 

While we have no issue with recording and sharing information, which is a huge part of the probation job, the vetting process is quite different from the vetting process we have in our employment. For example, it discriminates against people who have lived experience in the criminal justice system. People with those experiences are important in the probation system and have a real role to play in the future of probation. We have concerns that staff who are currently working in CRCs and have the lived experience of being in the criminal justice system will be frozen out through the vetting processes as they transfer over. 

We have even seen examples of people failing the police vetting on the basis of their family connections, in some cases because they were a victim of crime. We continue to raise serious concerns about that, and it will become even more apparent when the CRCs transfer in. A lot of the work, for example providing peer mentors, is done through the CRCs, and those people will be transferring to the National Probation Service next year. 

We have some questions about probation qualifications. Some CRCs made different decisions about which qualifications were appropriate to which role. There will be members of staff working in CRCs now who do not have the qualification that the National Probation Service will expect them to have to carry out their role. We think it is important that staff placed in that position, through no fault of their own, have the right kind of support and guidance either to gain an appropriate qualification or to move to an alternative role that allows them to use their skills and experience. 

We have concerns about the ability of the shared service contracted-out HR system in the National Probation Service to manage the transfer in of almost 7,000 staff. When staff transferred in Wales, the transfer went relatively well on a process level, but that was a couple of hundred staff and this is almost 7,000. What we learned from the original transfer into the NPS from the probation trust in 2014 was that shared services do not manage difference well. If there is any difference in people’s terms and conditions, job title or anything like that, we have a real concern that shared services will not be able to cope and adapt, which means months, potentially years, of misery for our members, if their pay is incorrect and they are hounded for repayment of overpayments and things like that. 

We have concerns about information that might be transferred from the CRCs to shared services and whether it will be properly stored, transferred and kept. We have gone through a process in the National Probation Service where all staff had to re-evidence their qualifications because, even though it was evidenced to the probation trust prior to TR, the National Probation Service did not have those records. They were either never transferred or transferred in a format that it did not recognise, which has meant that some members have even had to pay for new certificates so that they can evidence a qualification, sometimes from decades ago. We have a lot of concerns about the practical issues. 

Members need to be able to ask questions about what will happen to them when they transfer. They need to ask questions about what role they will have. What will it feel like? What will it look like? Will they be working in the same way with clients? Will they be doing different tasks? At the moment, it is very difficult for them to get reliable answers to those questions, and they end up relying on things they hear from other people that may have more or less basis in truth. There are a great many challenges in the move to a brand-new way of working right across the probation system. 

Q99 Miss Dines: This is a question to Ben in relation to the Unison report.

You reported that there was very much the existence of an us and them culture between CRC and NPS staff. How do you think that can be addressed? Is it really a significant problem? As you are all professionals, won’t you be able to work together for the national good? 

Ben Priestley: That would be everyone’s wish. I am sure that there are no members of the probation workforce who do not share that aim and objective. The difficulty is that Transforming Rehabilitation took a single, unified service that was working well, was a local service and had good local links, and broke it apart. Obviously, putting back together something that has been broken is a lot more difficult than would have been the case had it not been broken in the first place, and a lot more costly, to come back to the cost issue. 

One of the key issues that we identified in the recent survey that we did in support of our submission to the Committee’s inquiry this time, to find out exactly how members were feeling four or five years after the split in 2014-15, was that it is very clear that there is a two-tier feel about the workforce now. Some of the testimony that we put into our written submission to the inquiry sets that out very vividly. There are many more examples that we can certainly supply to the Committee, if necessary. 

We did not have any sense that it was going to be an easy or quick fix. Staff in the CRCs feel that they have had a sort of second-class status foisted on them, through no fault of their own, clearly. They are doing the same professional work as our members in the National Probation Service. However, the decision under the previous Government to separate the service into a service dealing with high-risk cases, the NPS, and a service dealing with medium and low-risk cases and interventions, the CRCs, created the sense that the CRCs were somehow less important and less valuable. Their staff were deemed to be less qualified, less trained and so on. Of course, as trade unions, we know that that is not true. Our members in both parts of the service are doing an equally difficult job, in very demanding circumstances, but the testimony is clear to see. 

What do we need to do about that? There is an understanding among HMPPS senior managers that there is a problem. The first step that you have to take to resolve an issue is to accept that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with. I think there is willingness on the part of senior managers and leaders to do that, but it will not be an easy task. We had testimony from staff who came over from the Wales CRC into NPS Wales on 1 December last year, who said very clearly that, since they came into the NPS in Wales, they feel that they have not been treated with the professional accord and respect that they would expect. There is clearly a problem. 

To deal with that, there needs to be a clear culture reset from the top of the organisation. We hope that that will be done. Staff need to be brought together. It relies on the recreation of a distinctive, definitive probation culture, resting on the values of the profession, which have got lost in the five years of the Transforming Rehabilitation experiment. It is the culture of a unified workforce, with professional colleagues working together as a team in one particular direction.

If we can get that culture re-established, through that kind of investment, we have a fighting chance, but it will rest on the terms and conditions being reunified. That is what the staff transfer and protections agreement that Ian mentioned at the outset will do. Our members have now voted for a package that will put all staff coming into the NPS from the CRCs on to National Probation Service terms and conditions from day one. That is obviously an important first step. Of course, it needs to be funded properly. 

It is also very important from the probation culture aspect that probation is not subsumed and swallowed into a general HMPPS culture. We as unions are always having to take a stand against attempts to dissolve some of our practices and procedures into HMPPS practices and procedures. As long as we can hold those off and maintain the distinctive probation culture, we have a real chance of getting everyone working together to reset the culture, to welcome colleagues from the community rehabilitation companies and, in effect, to create a new organisation going forward. 

Q100 Miss Dines: Can you expand on that briefly? What do you think is the culture of probation officers? You are all professionals. You can work together, I hope. What is the culture you are looking back at and want to recreate? Why not create a new culture? 

Ben Priestley: Everyone is open to the potential to create a new culture. This will be a totally new organisation. It will be a much larger organisation, not quite doubling, but nearly so. 

You are absolutely right. All probation staff, whatever their role, are working in a professional field, to a set of clearly established probation values. Our expectation is that, with the right message from the top of the organisation and the right funding to ensure that the service has the wherewithal to do what it needs to do, we can put the cultural differences aside and recreate the single workforce. That cultural change is something the organisation needs to invest in. Our understanding is that senior managers are alive to those issues and will want to work with the unions and staff to put that right. 

Q101 Miss Dines: What are your views on the probation workforce strategy? Do you think that it addresses staffing issues with the probation service adequately? 

Ian Lawrence: As I said earlier, we are working extremely positively with senior leaders. In the run-up to reunification, we worked with them on the staff transfer agreement you have heard about. We are now working on the crucial workforce strategy, which we are absolutely committed to. Within that, we hope to encompass all the key issues we have talked about thus far this afternoon. From the very positive engagement that we have had and the messages from people such as the director general of probation and Sonia Flynn, we are sure that we can move forward. 

A word of caution, though; I have been around for quite some time, and I must have seen any number of workforce strategies launched by employers. Eventually, they go into the dust or get diluted down the track. You have heard enough from us already to understand how committed we are to seeing this new organisation prosper. We will do all we can, alongside our members and leaders everywhere, to imbue a new, refreshing culture and to see whether we can put some of the main focal points of the workforce strategy into operation. 

It is a promising blueprint. There are a lot of promises, but, as people have said, staff need clear commitments and clear directives from the centre about what will be delivered for them, what their role will be going forward and what type of support we will get. In answering the question, we need to look across at the blame culture that, sadly, still exists in areas of probation. Katie wants to add something on that. 

Katie Lomas: Over recent years, we have seen a blame culture developing, particularly around the process of learning lessons from serious further offences when they happen. We must move away from a process by which blame is assigned and back to a genuine learning opportunity, to understand what happened and why it happened, and to find anything that we can do to focus on change in the future. 

That is not to say that we do not think that anybody should ever be called up on anything that they have done that is wrong, but when it is approached as a genuine learning opportunity—learning for individuals, as well as on an organisational level—we all get a better outcome. What is happening at the moment in too many cases is that there is a move first to a disciplinary investigation and we ask questions later. We would far rather move back to its being an opportunity for learning. 

That moves us into thinking about and considering some of the things that we have mentioned around developing professional competency across the probation system. We have been working with HMPPS on this for some time. We have recently been consulted on moving away from the SPDR appraisal process to a much more supportive performance management system, but none of that is integrated with the current system of probation supervision. 

All probation staff, particularly those who work on the frontline, need supervision that is not just about meeting the targets and fulfilling the requirements of their job description, but about the shared responsibility for risk with those who manage them. It is also about developing best practice and getting support when staff are working on the frontline in very trying circumstances, with clients who often display difficult behaviour and struggle to engage with professionals. Staff need more support in managing those working relationships. The fact that the performance management framework does not acknowledge that supervision requirement and reduces supervision or one-to-ones simply to talking about whether someone has achieved the requirements on them if they want to move on in their career is really disappointing. 

A recent HMIP report told us that SPOs—senior probation officers—were managing between 11 and 20 people at any one time and were able to spend only 20% of their time focusing on their case load. That shows you where support for those frontline staff is lacking in the system. Even if an SPO is only managing 11 people, that is 11 people they need to make time for every day, every week and every month of the year, to make sure that they are fulfilling all of those functions for them. 

We have an urgent need to review the role of the senior probation officer/team manager in the support, supervision and management of frontline staff. We have been seeking to engage with HMPPS on that for some time. The problem is exacerbated in environments like OMiC, in prisons; managers working in prisons often have even bigger teams to manage. Those are teams of people from a probation and a prison background, so there is much more complexity, because they have different terms and conditions and are subject to different policies and procedures. The SPOs seem to be the forgotten few in the system at the moment. They desperately need a focus in order for the transition to work. 

Q102 Chair: Are there any other observations? 

Ben Priestley: Can I add a couple of things to what Ian and Katie have said? The probation workforce programme has a number of headings in it, one of which is around attracting and retaining a talented workforce. Of course, we are all in agreement with that. That will require a decent pay and conditions package. You would expect us as trade unions to say that, of course, but it is worth remembering at this point that in the last 10 years the monetary value of the pay points in probation pay scales has gone up by only 1%. That compares with 12% for police staff, 9% for health workers and 9% for local government workers. 

Yes, we have had a number of pay awards where staff have progressed up their pay band. That is what generally happens to most public sector workers, so police officers and staff, health workers and local government workers will also have been progressing up their own pay bands, but they will have had an actual pay rise, in terms of the value of their pay points. The fact that probation staff have had a 1% pay rise over the last 10 years tells us just how far probation staff have fallen behind professionals in analogous contexts, such as social work, police work and work in the health service. That really will need to be put right. 

Recently, the unions wrote to the Minister, Lucy Frazer, to ask for reassurances that the bid that is going in for the CSR will ensure that future pay reform is fully funded in the probation service. There are other pay reforms that we need to see through in probation. We probably do not have time to go into those today, but we are in discussions with the probation employers about them at the moment. 

Another section heading in the probation workforce programme is around wellbeing. We touched on some of the issues that are relevant to that in previous remarks by myself and Napo colleagues. A workload management tool that covers the entire workforce has already been identified by HMIP as a real need for the organisation. Until that is provided, there is a real danger that talented, qualified, ambitious individuals will come into the service and find, as Katie said, that the spans of control of managerial staff are just too high at the moment. You will get burnout and people not being prepared to stay in the organisation. 

We need inclusive and supportive managers. Ian and Katie mentioned the blame culture. The organisation needs to find out what the lived experience of its staff is. At the moment, we are working with the organisation on a survey of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff in the service. Find out what your staff actually feel and think about their work. Listen to them. It is a simple lesson for employers to learn: listen to your workforce. The trade unions are here to enable the workforce to have a voice and to channel their views to the employer, so support for trade unions will be an integral part of the workforce programme going forward. Support unions to be the voice of the workforce. If you listen to staff, hear what they have to say and consult them before you make changes, you are well on the way to a successful workforce programme. 

Q103 Andy Slaughter: Good afternoon, everyone. Talking about new probation officers coming on stream, HMPPS said that there will be 1,000 new officers in training by January. Do you think that is realistic? Do you know whether it includes the 600 existing vacancies or whether it is additional to that? Do you think it will address the excess case load problems? What are your answers to any or all of those points? 

Katie Lomas: This is a really important question. It is easy to say, “There are 600 and something vacancies. We are bringing in 1,000 staff, so great—job done.” But it is never that simple, is it? There were around 600 vacancies on one particular day. However, the vacancy rate goes up and down, as more people are recruited and more people leave. Since 2014, in particular, we have seen a greater number of people exiting before their ordinary retirement age than we saw previously, so we are losing more experienced staff than we are gaining. 

Having 1,000 new probation officers sounds amazing, but they are not sitting in a cupboard somewhere just waiting to be brought out and into service. They have to be recruited, trained and developed. Probation training takes anywhere between 15 months and two years, depending on your prior qualifications. Once you have qualified, there is a need for you to be developed and supported in your role.

We have real concerns that the 1,000 new recruits who are coming in will face a difficult time as they try to establish themselves, both throughout their training and after their training, as they take on their first qualified role. 
The reason we have those concerns is that there is a lack of experienced staff to support them, and the experienced staff have massive case loads. It is not uncommon to see people working at 140% of their capacity. That eats up any capacity that they have to help, support, mentor and guide new staff in their role and to help people’s learning and development. 

In addition, it is important to note that the only place the practice training assessors who support people through their probation, training and qualification can come from is the pool of qualified probation officers. When you bring in 1,000 new recruits, you have to have more PTAs to support them. Those PTAs further diminish the number of qualified probation officers who are able to manage the workload. It is a further drain on the manager resource. Again, senior probation officers can only come from the pool of qualified probation officers. 

There is a need to stretch an already very thinly stretched resource even further in order to mend the situation, which is really difficult. That is why we have such a focus on the SPO role in particular. We recently restarted a consultation with HMPPS on the PTA role itself, looking at ways we can make sure both that new recruits are supported and helped during their qualification period and that that does not unduly stretch the already stretched resources working with clients at the moment. 

We continue to see the longer-term knock-on effect of what happened in 2014. When the transfer-in happens in June next year, there will need to be a further reckoning on vacancy rates, because we are aware that many of the CRCs are carrying high numbers of vacancies. They will be transferring a group of staff, but also a group of vacancies, which will add to the problem. It is a very complex situation. We have serious concerns that mending the problem will exacerbate it at first. 

Q104 Andy Slaughter: That is a common experience—with the police and the Prison Service as well—where there has been a massive loss of jobs over a period of years. Those are the most experienced people, on the whole, so at the moment you have novices coming in and then taking resources. Do you think that the employers appreciate that? Can they do anything about it, or are we going to see things get worse before they get better? 

Katie Lomas: On the whole, the employers appreciate it, but there is very little they can do about it. It is something that we will feel as pain before it starts to get better. 

There are some things that can be done. We can create additional resource among the staff group that exists. If you have the funding to do it, you can offer people currently working part time the opportunity to increase their hours. If you have a pool of probation officers who have that capacity, they can do that. 

In many areas, agency staff have been used as mentors. It is very inefficient to use agency staff to carry case loads, because turnover of worker is really damaging to our clients, but you can bring them in and use them for a year to two years to mentor a group of new recruits. That is far more effective than using agency staff to hold case loads or to backfill for people doing other work. There are some things that can be done, but you are absolutely right. We are going to feel this as pain and difficulty in the system before we see any of the beneficial effects of the 1,000 new recruits. 

Chair: That is very helpful. We have talked generally about the challenges that your members have been facing with Covid-19. That has been an additional burden for everybody at this time. Before we conclude, we want as a Committee to put on record our appreciation of the work that all probation staff—members of both your unions—have been doing under particularly stressful and challenging circumstances. We are grateful to them. I hope you will pass on to your members our thanks for what they are doing. 

Thank you very much for your helpful evidence and your time this afternoon. The evidence session is concluded.